Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
Hebrews 10:32, 35-36 (NIV84)
The wisest man I ever met went home yesterday.
Our regular readers know how much Clarke and I have been shaped by Dick Woodward’s ministry. It would have been impossible for us to have any kind of teaching ministry—blog or otherwise— without sharing what we learned from him. His occupational title was ‘pastor’, but he saw himself, perhaps first and foremost, as a teacher.
There will be many fine tributes in the days ahead, and I am not a good enough writer to do him justice. But I will share some personal remembrances as a small way of saying ‘thanks’.
Dick Woodward helped found and pastor both the Virginia Beach Community Chapel, where he served 23 years, and the Williamsburg Community Chapel, where he remained as pastor emeritus until his passing. His relationship with (don’t skip this hyperlink) Dois Rosser, the founder of International Cooperating Ministries (ICM), made it possible for Dick to realize his dream of “The Whole Word for the Whole World.” His Mini Bible College program has been translated into 31 strategic languages and is used around the world to nurture believers and assist in church growth. MBC is a survey, book, and topical study of the Bible that teaches practical and devotional applications of every book of the Bible to our lives.
In 1980 Dick was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the spinal cord that eventually left him a bedfast quadriplegic. In spite of this disease he remained active in small groups, mentoring, and writing Bible study materials. He was an avid blogger and a meticulous and prolific writer, and produced his ambitious Marketplace Disciples in December, 2013. He often said, “The less I can do, the more the Lord does.”
ICM publishes his books, study guides, and pamphlets on multiple websites, including Amazon, and the ICM Shop, and serves his extensive audio catalog on One Place, iTunes, The Mini Bible College, and To Learn To Live. ICM used Dick’s Mini Bible college to construct and support over 4,500 churches in 66 countries. They held a 25th Anniversary celebration in 2011 to celebrate God’s blessing of this remarkable ministry.
Being around him was like taking a spiritual shower. He was always upbeat and encouraging—unquestionably the most steadfast, most faithful, and toughest man I ever met. I never saw him down, and never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. Never.
In no particular order, here are a few remembrances and impressions for which I am grateful.
- If Dick had not been a pastor, I am certain he would have been a comedian. He started every sermon with a joke, and most of them were very funny. There was a method to his joke telling—people didn’t want to miss the beginning of his sermons for fear they would miss the joke.
- He was completely self-deprecating. When I started attending his church I was taken by his descriptions of shooting rats in a landfill, stray bullets, and snatching a parishioner by the collar. This guy was for real. He described himself as a ‘barbarian’ in his teenage years. He wasn’t what I thought preachers were like. Again, I am extremely grateful.
- Dick had a very sharp mind. He had memorized over 100 hymns and countless lines of Scripture. I always hesitated to cite a chapter and verse with him, because if I missed, he could call me out. He never did.
- He loved Scripture songs. I can vividly recall his a cappella voice leading the congregation in “Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth,” from his wheelchair, with Jane Hanson and Gayla Johnson making my neck tingle with their soprano runs from the seats behind me. Wow, what I wouldn’t give to hear that again!
- He loved the Pittsburg Steelers, sports, and generally anything to do with Pittsburg (where he grew up).
- In recent years Dick and I would meet under the guise of helping him with his computer. His doctors and caregivers said he had to limit his time with visitors to save energy, and I was always looking at my watch, but he loved to talk. Even when he had to struggle to do so. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea a year or two ago, and his BiPAP therapy gave him a second wind (literally). There were times when he just wouldn’t stop talking.
- Dick would not miss any opportunity to teach people about the Bible and about Jesus Christ. One of the things I set up for him was the automatic signature for his outgoing emails. Tonight, it seems like a fitting epitaph. It read:
Founder & Teacher
Mini Bible College
4 Spiritual Secrets
“And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work…
For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”
(Philippians 1:6; 2:13, NLT)
- He was encouraging; some would say to a fault. If anyone went to him and said they wanted to become a brain surgeon, Dick would encourage them, regardless. There were no limits, just positive support. Dick truly believed that God could do anything with anyone—as expressed in his email signature.
- I have listened to thousands of hours of his preaching and teaching, and his lessons are quite ingrained. When I began teaching adults, Dick’s material was my plumb line. It always will be. When I am blogging and find myself getting on a high horse, I ask myself “what would Dick say or think about that?” The result is typically a deletion of smarmy words and comments, and a softening of my attitude.
- Dick was so humble. I remember reading one of Clarke’s statements that, “C.S. Lewis never systematized his theology,” and began wondering why Dick never systematized his theology. When I came to my senses I realized Dick had completely systematized his theology—it’s called “The Four Spiritual Secrets.”
- Dick said he really didn’t get C.S. Lewis. He once told me he thought Lewis made things too complicated. “I’ve spent my ministry trying to make things simple so people can understand.” Every time I catch myself wanting to toss in an extra big word in my writing, I hear Dick’s echo.
- He was a fierce writer. He had editors for his published books, and he would send them drafts, and when the editor’s comments came back Dick was persistent and insistent. Man, he worked over sentences! It was an amazing thing to watch because he had to draw in a breath and push hard to make the voice-activation work. It took a lot of voice commands to revise his text, particularly when, as he would say, his “computer was having a bad day.” It was exhausting, but he did it because the words really mattered to him.
- He knew all the big names in Christianity. I would tell him about a video I saw on Robertson McQuilkin, and Dick would start talking about what kind of cook Muriel McQuilkin was, and how they used to come visit Dick in Williamsburg. Dick studied under Robertson McQuilkin—and Howard Hendricks (Dick affectionately remembered him as ‘Howie’). Bill Bright and Ravi Zacharias came to see him. He arranged to have John Stott come speak. He worked under J. Vernon McGee. He studied at Biola and Columbia University.
- For all his publishing and ministerial work, Dick never tried to cash in. He once told me that he and Ginny hated “that sort of thing” (meaning where people made God’s Word less accessible by charging for it, and even worse, trying to profit from its distribution). He said everything he did was intentionally in the public domain. His publishers still need payment for their efforts, but that’s the way he truly felt about what he was doing.
- Dick’s dad worked multiple jobs to support his family through the Great Depression, including driving a cab at night. Dick got his work ethic from his dad, as well as his love of the Scriptures (which you can read about here). His family is tight. It always has been—never under the circumstances.
There’s much more to be grateful for, but most of that will be documented by others and is available in his published materials and audio resources. Dick persevered, with grace, with humility, and with great joy, through all things. He trusted his favorite verse, Romans 8:28, and he clearly demonstrated that he knew whom he believed:
“That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV84)
Thanks to Dick’s hard work and dedication, we can all share that trust with confidence and greater understanding.
ICM produced the following “Meet the Man” video on Dick and his ministry.
Here is Ravi Zacharias describing how Dick inspired him. (Ravi’s meeting with Dick starts at 2:09 in the video.)
This is where I really start to get choked up. This is where the love of God and personal sacrifice were most demonstrated for all of us. Dick’s family took care of Dick when his body failed. Without asking for help. For decades they steadfastly sacrificed to do everything, EVERYTHING, for Dick. Their love for each other and their devotion to Dick, Ginny, and each other was completely unflappable. To say it was “truly inspiring to witness that kind of love” is completely inadequate. I really have no words—and tears are streaming down my face as I type.
HT: All I can think to offer is, “Thank you God.”
March 9th, 2014 at 10:18 am
Tears were streaming down my face as I read. I have never met Dick, but because of him my father took our family to the Williamsburg Community Chapel. I was 8 and now am 36. I am grateful for the pastoring at the chapel and everything instilled in me through the four spiritual secrets. Truly foundational and instrumental. Thanks so much for this article today, I learned even more about this incredible life.
March 9th, 2014 at 6:32 pm
Thanks Janet, your support is particularly appreciated today. I wish everyone could have spent time with him one-on-one. He really made everyone feel so loved. You can’t fake that kind of love, particularly over such a long period of physical torment and suffering.
One of his jokes went roughly like this:
The illustration was that we are under grace, not under circumstances. It was a setup for 1 Thessalonians 5:18–that we are to be grateful in all circumstances (not necessarily for all circumstances). It’s one of the few times Dick would split hairs over the Greek translation and the particular diction of Paul.
Dick truly believed Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Dick would always add, “And yes, even in suffering.”
March 9th, 2014 at 12:13 pm
Thanks John for this nice tribute to a great teacher, pastor and friend.
March 9th, 2014 at 6:15 pm
My pleasure Fred. We were exceptionally blessed to have spent all those years under Dick’s teaching. You and I were young fathers when we came to his church (at about the same time as I recall), and now you’re a grandfather. Wow, how time flies!
March 9th, 2014 at 8:07 pm
Thanks for that … my mom called me today to tell me the news. I still remember when WCC was meeting in the gym as the high school on Jamestown Road & I went in my first year at W&M. This man in a wheelchair rolled up on stage and blew my spiritual socks off. I don’t think I ever had a conversation with Pastor Dick, but he shaped a lot of my life while in college and beyond. I remember telling my dad, “this guy is even a better preacher than you are!” Not sure how he liked that at the time! haha.
I also remember his son Dwight would pick me up and drive me out to services on Sundays my 2nd & 3rd years at the College. He really did always appear to be a cheerful servant of the Lord. I am sure he’s enjoying his blessed reward, “well done good & faithful servant!”
March 9th, 2014 at 8:14 pm
Thanks Bryan for your remembrance. Dwight is still one of the most helpful and cheerful servants of the Lord I know. He and his sister Virginia were Dick’s 24/7 primary caregivers for many, many years–up until his passing. Their great sacrifices enabled Dick’s continuing ministry, and they continue to be such an encouragement to all of us.
March 10th, 2014 at 7:59 am
Very nicely said
March 12th, 2014 at 6:24 am
Thanks Page, there’s quite a legacy to share.
March 10th, 2014 at 4:05 pm
I still have all my cassette tapes from the Mini Bible College course I took in 1980, I was listening to Matthew chapter 25 last night while I mended a blanket. They were the first things we packed when we went on long car rides when the kids were little, we’ve incorporated much of what he taught in our ministry in the mission field these past 15 years.
March 12th, 2014 at 6:22 am
Kathleen, just in case those tapes are getting a ltittle worn, here’s a back door link to Dick’s entire audio catalog. It includes the Mini Bible College, and all of his special series (Romans, Sermon on the Mount, etc.)
Thanks for commenting!
March 10th, 2014 at 10:17 pm
John, this is a wonderful tribute to an amazing man. I am so thankful that I too had the chance to sit under his teaching for so many years. Iris and I first heard about Dick when he was still in Virginia Beach and appeared on Channel 3 with Mildred Alexander. We were excited when we later heard he was coming to Williamsburg.
He was a masterful teacher. He always said his approach was devotional, but when you studied his sermons and MBC messages, there was a lot of depth there as well. He truly succeeded in making things easy to understand. It’s great that his teaching will live on through ICM and will be a blessing to many thousands of people around the world in the years to come.
March 12th, 2014 at 6:28 am
Thanks Dave, we were indeed blessed. I’ve been reflecting a lot this week on how much of an impact Dick had on my life. It’s inestimable.
March 11th, 2014 at 8:36 pm
John- so beautifully written!!! You helped Papa so much (we are using the gigantic computer screen as the family gathers this week for various purposes 🙂 We all miss him so very much (it’s hard to stop crying) but as his love lives on in our hearts, so too his teachings will continue to draw us closer to Jesus. He must be having such a grand time up there checking in with all the beloved “friends” he introduced us to – major prophets, the minor ones & all in between…
Much grace, peace & appreciation
p.s. i also can see Papa jogging with his new spiritual legs all over those pearly streets !! : )
March 12th, 2014 at 6:35 am
I hope that as the tears slow down you and your family will be able to enjoy some much deserved rest. I’m really going to miss him as well, and particularly his blog posts. There was so much encouragement in his writing and his dedication to all of us. May God bless you as you grieve.
April 6th, 2014 at 10:28 am
This is a wonderful tribute to Dick. I was so privileged to know him.
Ann Guerrant introduced me to his radio class when we lived on Hunting Cove. Augusta
April 6th, 2014 at 1:06 pm
It’s amazing to consider the progression of events. Dick influenced you, you influenced us. It’s a wonderful legacy. Thanks for commenting!
May 9th, 2014 at 6:15 pm
What a wonderful heart touching account of a man known of God with the gift of evangelism having a great desire to reach out to others with God’s Hope and Love.
Dick will always be alive because he is in your heart John and in many other peoples hearts too and we rejoice that he now knows complete Joy, my only sadness is that I never met him and yet I feel I know him, Thank you.
Christian Love from us both – Anne
May 10th, 2014 at 8:20 pm
I can give you scores and scores of apologetic reasons for trusting Jesus Christ, but none more real than the Gospel that was so evident in the way Dick Woodward lived his life. He was truly a blessing to me and to thousands of others. We’ll miss him…but not for long. Thanks and God bless!